What is a Pinched Nerve?
A pinched nerve is a painful experience affecting millions of Americans every year. Pinched or compressed nerves are usually a result of bone or connective tissue placing too much pressure on a nerve. This pressure causes inflammation, impeding the nerve function which our bodies interpret as pain.
A pinched nerve can occur at several sites in your body. For example, a herniated disk in the lower spine may put pressure on a nerve root, causing pain that radiates down the back of your leg. Usually, with rest and other conservative treatments, most people recover from a pinched nerve within a few days or weeks. However, surgery may be needed in some cases to relieve pain from a pinched nerve.
Pinched Nerve Causes
A pinched nerve is caused by too much pressure being applied to the nerve by surrounding tissue.
Below you will find the most common causes of a pinched nerve:
Pinched Nerve Symptoms
- Numbness or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve
- Sharp, aching or burning pain, which may radiate outward
- Frequent feeling that a foot or hand has “fallen asleep”
- Tingling, “pins and needles” sensations (paresthesia)
- Muscle weakness in the affected area
Pinched Nerve Diagnosis
A pinched nerve is typically diagnosed by your doctor conducting a physical examination. If your doctor thinks your pain may be from a pinched nerve, he/she may perform tests, these tests may include the following:
- Nerve conduction study. This test measures electrical nerve impulses and functioning in your muscles and nerves through electrodes placed on your skin. The study measures the electrical impulses in your nerve signals when a small current passes through the nerve. Test results tell your doctor whether you have a damaged nerve.
- Electromyography (EMG). During an EMG, your doctor inserts a needle electrode through your skin into various muscles. The test evaluates the electrical activity of your muscles when they contract and when they’re at rest. Test results tell your doctor if there is damage to the nerves leading to the muscle.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed views of your body in multiple planes. This test may be used if your doctor suspects you have nerve root compression.
- High-resolution ultrasound. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of structures within your body. It’s helpful for diagnosing nerve compression syndromes, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Pinched Nerve Treatment
It’s typical when you have been diagnosed with a punched nerve for your physican to recommend no more activities which may cause or aggravate the compression.
The following are typical treatment methods used:
Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), can help relieve pain.
It’s typical for corticosteroid injections to be recommended. These are usually given by injection and may help minimize pain and inflammation.
Physcial Therapy: Physical therapy is a very important treatment method. This method can teach you exercises to help stregnthen and stretch muscles that are affecting the pinched nerve.
Surgical Options: If conservative methods do not help with the pinched nerve, sometimes surgery is recommended.
The surgical procedure may involve removing bone spurs or apart of a herniated disc in the spine to allow more room for the nerve to pass through.